What is a Tippet For Fly Fishing? (Understand Fly Fishing Tippets)

The tippet is the smallest gauge of line on your outfit. This is where the fly is tied to the line.

Leaders are a tapered monofilament line, meaning they are a larger diameter at the butt end which attaches to the fly line which is attached to the reel.

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How Much Tippet Do You Use?

If you want to improve the presentation of your fly, you will have to pay more attention to your tippet.

It’s as important as the fly pattern you choose. The size and length and taper of the terminal end of your leader can even determine how your casts look and feel.

But it’s rod designing instead of rocket science. I figured I’d use an analogy that is technical and tricky and can’t be done by most mortals.

Learning to pay attention to your tippet only requires just a few easy steps.

fly fishing rod and reel with different types of fishing flies

What does the transition to your tippet look like and how do you fix it? I don’t really worry too much about the butt section of my leader.

I use a furled leader, standard solid nylon leaders, and braided leaders almost interchangeably. I find that it’s far more important what goes on at the other end of my leader.

Watch the end of your leader when you cast. Go to a place where you have the sun on your leader and a dark background and watch how it lands.

If the line straightens above the water about the same time and the leader floats to the water, you’re in good shape.

If you see an area of the leader just prior to the tippet that dives to the water before the butt section or the tippet, you know it’s too heavy or too short.

Most of the time, if this happens, it is almost always bad news. If you see exaggerated curls just before the tippet lands then your transition is too long.

This is not really bad because you can use this property to put slack in your leader and avoid drag.

What Size of a Transition Piece to Use?

Take the size tippet you plan on using and slide it up against the rest of your leader.

The terminal end of your leader, before the tippet, should be just a whisker heavier, about .001”, than the tippet.

And you don’t need a micrometer to eyeball what .001” looks like.

You need to compare a piece of 5x and 4X then you will see what the difference looks like.

Besides making a smooth transition to improve the presentation, you never want to go more than .002” of an inch (or two X sizes) in a trout leader.

This is because the knots won’t hold. This is not true for saltwater leaders, with their heavier diameters and less emphasis on delicacy.

I switch back and forth between a triple surgeon’s knot and a 5-turn blood knot depending on how impatient and hurried I am.

Surgeon’s knot for speed, blood knot for a slim connection and I suspect just a bit more strength.

If there is a big difference between your new tippet and the butt of your leader. Try adding two transitions, stepping down 1 or 2 thousandths between these.

fly fishing rod and fly box full of flies

How Long Should Your Transition Be?

I like a minimum of 12 inches for a transition section so I don’t have to tie on a new one.

But if it’s not windy and I really want some delicacy I might make it a foot or even 14 inches long.

Again, make a cast and look at how your leader lands. Your casting style and the conditions might vary from mine so experiment until you get it right.

How Long of a Tippet Should You Use?

I can’t tell you the number of times I have fished with a relatively experienced angler.

Then looked at his or her tippet and I am shocked to see their tippet at about 8 inches long.

When I ask if they think their tippet is OK, they look at it and say “Yeah, I think it’s good enough”.

I think nearly all tippet sections that are on knotless leaders are too short.

They’re designed to look good when you cast. A 20” tippet leaves very little room for changing flies and it does not help with delicacy and drag reduction.

I always try to use a minimum of four feet for my tippet on leaders from 9 to 12 feet long. I might even go five feet or more on a 15-footer.

For furled and braided leaders you can even go longer—they’ll straighten a 6-foot tippet on a calm day.

close-up fly fishing rod and reel with fly box in background

What’s the Object of the Tippet?

The object of your tippet is to keep your fly line and heavier part of your leader from landing too close to the fish.

It’s critical in trout fishing in clear water, and it’s almost as important in fishing for bonefish or snook or stripers on the flats.

Remember in trout fishing, the longer your tippet, the less likely drag will set in right away.

Plus in nymph fishing, a longer tippet sinks a fly quicker because fine diameters have less resistance.

Watch the end of your leader, then play around with it until you think it looks right.

Do You Need a Tippet for Fly Fishing?

The answer is no, you do not need a tippet to fly fish. I have been fly fishing for several years and when I started I always built my own leaders or what they call tippets now.

First, we started with a 20-pound test tied to the fly line for about 16 inches. Then we added about 16 inches of the 15-pound test to the end of the 20-pound test.

We then added 16 inches of the 12-pound test to that and then added 16 inches of 10-pound test.

Then it came to 16 inches of 8-pound test and then 16 inches of the 6-pound test. Then we ended up with 24 inches of 4-pound test and then we tied our fly to the end of that.

But over the years of fly fishing we usually only fish lakes and reservoirs.

Since that is all we fish in and most of the flies we use are streamers and nymphs. We don’t use what they call a tippet which is larger on one end and smaller on the other.

Because we don’t have to worry so much about presentation as the dry fly fishermen do. We will start straight from the line with 6 feet or so of usually 4 or 6-pound test leader to the fly.

fly fishing rod reel combo and flies

What Are Tippet Rings?

Because we are using bigger flies and fishing below the surface we don’t worry about a splash.

Tippet Rings are small, but they are very strong and lightweight, and make rigging and tippet replacement fast and easy.

A leader that has a tippet ring will turn over perfectly, they are light enough so you can use them when fishing dry flies.

Tie the tippet ring to the leader with a clinch knot, and then add your tippet the same way. Your tapered leaders will last longer.

If you use a tippet ring the leader will not be shortened every time you replace the tippet.

Tippet rings will also make it easy to add a dropper for European Style Nymphing along with Indicator nymph fishing.

Bob Hoffmann

The author of this post is Bob Hoffmann. Bob has spend most of his childhood fishing with his father and now share all his knowledge with other anglers. Feel free to leave a comment below.

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